But something has caught my attention and it's really got my goat, so I want to try and start a conversation about it. It's nothing earth-shattering, but it is unfair and I find it intensely annoying that the average consumer is being screwed over by a group of companies who think that they can get away with something just because they're all doing it.
What is it?
To be precise, car hire companies and booster seats - and the shocking way that parents of children under 12 are ripped off.
If you don't have children under the age of 12 (or over the height of 135 cm, whichever comes first - see here for full UK government guidelines) this may not be something you're concerned about, in which case click away now, because I am going to have a good old-fashioned rant on this subject.
We are a family that travels. Even when we visit 'home' we are not the sort of expats who are lucky enough to arrive back in our country of origin to a car that's been mothballed during our absence; if we want to be mobile and able to visit family and friends in difficult to reach places in the UK, we have to hire a car. And, with two children well under both the height and age limits for car booster seats in the UK, we need booster seats for them to sit on.
All well and good. But where to get them from?
Essentially there are 3 options.
1. Take booster seats with us
Increasingly we do this, but it's not always practical if we are only going for a short trip (family emergencies, surprise visits etc). Even when it is, in today's world of ever-decreasing baggage allowances I'm not sure how much longer we're going to be able to keep it up. And when you're away for more than a week or so and unsure what the weather might hold for you - welcome to Britain in Summer! - you need clothes to cover every eventuality, so finding the space for two booster seats - even the less bulky kind - isn't easy. Of course, there are companies that help with this (the excellent inflatable Bubblebum and Trunki's BoostaPak are two that spring to mind), but not everybody is in the position to spend the money involved, especially if you have two or more children, and even these options take space.
2. Buy a booster seat when we reach our destination
Because that's every holiday-maker's dream, isn't it, to pick up their hire car and then head straight for the nearest B&Q / Mothercare / Halfords to pick up booster seats for their children so they can safely drive on to their destination? And then of course, what to do with them when your trip is over? Leave them with the car you've hired (hardly 'reduce, reuse and recyle' if you do that every time you make a trip), or try to cram it into your already over-stuffed suitcase along with the dirty laundry? *
Which leaves us with...
3. Hire a booster seat from your car hire company
If you book your car hire online, as most of us do, the option to book car seats - and the cost of doing so - will not show up until you confirm your booking. For some reason - I can't imagine why - the quotation with which you are hooked into a car hire deal won't give you the opportunity to see the price of a car seat. Whisper it softly, but perhaps this is because if you have two or more children, the price is so ridiculous that they don't want you to know what it is in advance.
Hiring a booster seat from the mainstream car hire companies in the UK will cost you a minimum of £4 a day, and a maximum of £9 a day, per booster seat. So say you hire booster seats for a week for two children under 12 years old, that will cost you £56 at best, and £126 at worst. Obviously you're not going to spend that money, especially when the car itself is yours for the week at around £130.**
Instead then, you are forced either to take your own booster seat, or to purchase one at the nearest shop selling them once you've collected the car, and then possibly leaving it in your hire car when you return it. I mean, why not, since you may only have paid £10 for it at Halfords or similar? (I can tell you why not, actually; I am damned if I'm going to give these companies another car seat to add to their inventory for them to then make a clear profit on when they use it for the next hapless consumer with young children).
So here's my question; why don't Europcar, Hertz, Avis, Alamo, Budget, Sixt, Thrifty, Dollar, National and the rest, many of whom make noises about making consumer's lives easier and being family friendly, and safety conscious, to boot, (boom boom) do something about this?
They wouldn't have to give booster seats away for free - heaven forbid. They could take a deposit to the value of the seat against it's clean and useable return (and those of us who have used their in-house models know that 'clean' is not something always guaranteed even when you pay the hefty hire charge). Hell, I don't want not to pay for a service; they could even keep some deposit at the end of the hire period - £5, perhaps - to cover the cost to them of buying new booster seats every 4 hires or so. As if.
As I said at the start of this post, there are far more important issues in the world out there than this right now. But to me this is just another example of consumers being ripped off by suppliers for no good reason other than that the suppliers can get away with it. And whilst that is inherently part of a market economy, I resent that they are making use of my parental wish - and legal obligation - to keep my children safe on the roads, to do so.
What do you think?
*Of course, if you're flying to meet up with family, there's always the option of persuading long-suffering relatives to meet you at the airport with a booster seat you have left with them. Except... that's always assuming they live close enough to do it, and that they will also be happy to accompany you back there on the way to connect with your return flight too. Even the most doting grannies and grandads are going to find that one loses it's attraction soon enough.
** The hire price for a small 5 door car based on a quote received yesterday for 1 week in July 2012